Archive for July, 2012

1789: Joseph-Francois Foulon, corrupt financier, lynched

1 comment July 22nd, 2012 Headsman

On this date, just days after the Bastille fell, so did the head of widely-loathed ancien regime pol Joseph-Francois Foulon (or Foullon) de Doue.

“This is that same Foulon,” says Carlyle, “named ame damnee du Parlement; a man grown gray in treachery, in griping, projecting, intriguing and iniquity: who once when it was objected, to some finance-scheme of his, ‘What will the people do?’ — made answer, in the fire of discussion, ‘The people may eat grass:’ hasty words, which fly abroad irrevocable, — and will send back tidings!”

Marie Antoinette, eat your cake out.

Foulon’s grass tidings would arrive courtesy of the king‘s July 11, 1789 dismissal of Finance Minister Jacques Necker and attempt to rule through an ultra-royalist government. It was fury over this apparent reactionary coup that led to the storming of the Bastille and catalyzed the French Revolution.

Foulon, now the Controller-General of Finances — and as Carlyle puts it, “a scoundrel; but of unmeasured wealth,” who had gorged himself at the public trough while the kingdom’s finances grew thin, and who was widely suspected of having manipulated the food supply out of cruel rapacity — apprehended the danger and fled town. He even staged a lavish funeral to put about word that he had died suddenly.

But “some living domestic or dependant, for none loves Foulon,” betrayed him (Carlyle’s version) — or by whatever means, the Parisian mob sniffed him out. Then it quickly did to him what the Parisian mob would soon become famous for. “His old head, which seventy-four years have bleached, is bare; they have tied an emblematic bundle of grass on his back; a garland of nettles and thistles is round his neck: in this manner; led with ropes; goaded on with curses and menaces, must he, with his old limbs, sprawl forward; the pitiablest, most unpitied of all old men.”

Carlyle spares little but the most animal pity for Foulon, but the mob did not even muster that. Summoned to be judged at the Hotel de Ville — the Marquis de Lafayette and the new mayor of Paris, Bailly, unsuccessfully attempted to intercede for proper procedure — Foulon found himself instead subject to the revolutionary judgment of the masses.

For Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, this incident forms one of the mileposts of the Revolution, when the waiting sans-culottes of Saint Antoine are transfigured, and leads the fictional long-time revolutionary conspirator Defarge to sigh to his even more implacable wife, “At last it is come, my dear!”

“Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people that they might eat grass, and who died, and went to Hell?”

“Everybody!” from all throats.

“The news is of him. He is among us!”

“Among us!” from the universal throat again. “And dead?”

“Not dead! He feared us so much—and with reason—that he caused himself to be represented as dead, and had a grand mock-funeral. But they have found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought him in. I have seen him but now, on his way to the Hotel de Ville, a prisoner. I have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! Had he reason?”

Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and ten, if he had never known it yet, he would have known it in his heart of hearts if he could have heard the answering cry.

A moment of profound silence followed. Defarge and his wife looked steadfastly at one another. The Vengeance stooped, and the jar of a drum was heard as she moved it at her feet behind the counter.

“Patriots!” said Defarge, in a determined voice, “are we ready?”

Instantly Madame Defarge’s knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and The Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to house, rousing the women.

The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger with which they looked from windows, caught up what arms they had, and came pouring down into the streets; but, the women were a sight to chill the boldest. From such household occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother! Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a score of others ran into the midst of these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon alive! Foulon who told the starving people they might eat grass! Foulon who told my old father that he might eat grass, when I had no bread to give him! Foulon who told my baby it might suck grass, when these breasts were dry with want! O mother of God, this Foulon! O Heaven our suffering! Hear me, my dead baby and my withered father: I swear on my knees, on these stones, to avenge you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers, and young men, Give us the blood of Foulon, Give us the head of Foulon, Give us the heart of Foulon, Give us the body and soul of Foulon, Rend Foulon to pieces, and dig him into the ground, that grass may grow from him! With these cries, numbers of the women, lashed into blind frenzy, whirled about, striking and tearing at their own friends until they dropped into a passionate swoon, and were only saved by the men belonging to them from being trampled under foot.

Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon was at the Hotel de Ville, and might be loosed. Never, if Saint Antoine knew his own sufferings, insults, and wrongs! Armed men and women flocked out of the Quarter so fast, and drew even these last dregs after them with such a force of suction, that within a quarter of an hour there was not a human creature in Saint Antoine’s bosom but a few old crones and the wailing children.

No. They were all by that time choking the Hall of Examination where this old man, ugly and wicked, was, and overflowing into the adjacent open space and streets. The Defarges, husband and wife, The Vengeance, and Jacques Three, were in the first press, and at no great distance from him in the Hall.

“See!” cried madame, pointing with her knife. “See the old villain bound with ropes. That was well done to tie a bunch of grass upon his back. Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him eat it now!” Madame put her knife under her arm, and clapped her hands as at a play.

The people immediately behind Madame Defarge, explaining the cause of her satisfaction to those behind them, and those again explaining to others, and those to others, the neighbouring streets resounded with the clapping of hands. Similarly, during two or three hours of drawl, and the winnowing of many bushels of words, Madame Defarge’s frequent expressions of impatience were taken up, with marvellous quickness, at a distance: the more readily, because certain men who had by some wonderful exercise of agility climbed up the external architecture to look in from the windows, knew Madame Defarge well, and acted as a telegraph between her and the crowd outside the building.

At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope or protection, directly down upon the old prisoner’s head. The favour was too much to bear; in an instant the barrier of dust and chaff that had stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and Saint Antoine had got him!

It was known directly, to the furthest confines of the crowd. Defarge had but sprung over a railing and a table, and folded the miserable wretch in a deadly embrace—Madame Defarge had but followed and turned her hand in one of the ropes with which he was tied—The Vengeance and Jacques Three were not yet up with them, and the men at the windows had not yet swooped into the Hall, like birds of prey from their high perches—when the cry seemed to go up, all over the city, “Bring him out! Bring him to the lamp!”

Down, and up, and head foremost on the steps of the building; now, on his knees; now, on his feet; now, on his back; dragged, and struck at, and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that were thrust into his face by hundreds of hands; torn, bruised, panting, bleeding, yet always entreating and beseeching for mercy; now full of vehement agony of action, with a small clear space about him as the people drew one another back that they might see; now, a log of dead wood drawn through a forest of legs; he was hauled to the nearest street corner where one of the fatal lamps swung, and there Madame Defarge let him go—as a cat might have done to a mouse—and silently and composedly looked at him while they made ready, and while he besought her: the women passionately screeching at him all the time, and the men sternly calling out to have him killed with grass in his mouth. Once, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; twice, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; then, the rope was merciful, and held him, and his head was soon upon a pike, with grass enough in the mouth for all Saint Antoine to dance at the sight of.

That grass-stuffed head on a pike was there waiting when the bloody banquet’s digestif arrived later that evening in the form of Foulon’s son-in-law Louis-Jean Bertier de Sauvigny: another government official arrested that day and drug to the same place, for the same fate.


Bertier de Sauvignon, Intendant of Paris, Is Led to His Punishment (Source, specifically image 25)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Botched Executions,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Infamous,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Pelf,Politicians,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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1798: Anthony Perry and Mogue Kearns, Protestant and Catholic

Add comment July 21st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1798,* two Irish rebels — a Catholic and a Protestant — were hanged side by side at Blundell Hill, Edenderry for their parts in that year’s Irish Rebellion.

Their biographies were a study in contrast: Anthony Perry, “a Protestant gentleman of independent fortune, liberal education, and benevolent mind”; Mogue Kearns, the brooding and ordained stock of Catholic farmers. Legend has it that Kearns even survived a mob lynching in Paris during the French Revolution.**

If so, it didn’t dampen his revolutionary ardor.

The two men were major movers in the Wexford Rebellion, one of the more successful and (to the British) surprising centers of insurrection in 1798. Perry, still half-broken by British torture,† returned to the field to help rout the Brits at the Battle of Tuberneering, obtaining the nickname “the Screeching General” for his barbaric vociferations in battle.

But after this successful ambush, the United Irishmen were driven from pillar to post — a failed attack on Arklow followed by the rebels’ defeat at their Vinegar Hill encampment.

A few weeks later, the multiconfessional leaders were captured, and quickly hanged at Edenderry, with “benefit” only of a summary court-martial.

Perry was extremely communicative, and while in custody, both before and after trial, gratified the enquiries of every person who spoke to him, and made such a favourable impression, that many regretted his fate …

Kearns was exactly the reverse of his companion — he was silent and sulk, and seldom spoke, save to upbraid Perry for his candid acknowledgments … [he had] an hypocritical and malignant heart, filled with gloomy and ferocious passions — He seemed rather to be an instrument of Hell, than a minister of Heaven, for his mind was perpetually brooding over sanguinary schemes and plans of rapines, while he assumed the sacred vestments of a servant of Christ!

Their capture marked the final collapse of Wexford’s rebellious “republic”; by September of that same year, all Irish disturbances had been definitively, and bloodily, quelled.

* Some sources have July 12, an apparent transposition of the correct date; both men appear to have skirmished in Clonard on July 11 and again at Knightstown Bog on July 14, and only captured thereafter, followed by several days’ captivity before hanging.

** “The history of the Priest is somewhat extraordinary — he had actually been hanged in Paris, during the reign of Robespierre, but being a large heavy man, the lamp-iron from which he was suspended, gave way, till his toes reached the ground — in this state he was cut down by a physician, who had known him, brought him to his house, and recovered him.”

† Perry’s troops happened to capture two men involved in Perry’s torture in early June. He had his ex-tormenters executed.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1301: False Margaret, Norwegian pretender

Add comment July 20th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

This is the feast date for the early Christian martyr Saint Margaret the Virgin of Antioch (only one of many saints named Margaret).

Margaret might in principle be of interest to this site as the patroness of the falsely accused, and one of the saints who spoke to Joan of Arc, but her star has fallen quite a bit since its medieval heyday on the celestial all-star team; considering the doubtful historicity of this bog-standard Diocletian martyr, the Catholic Church has dropped some of her celebrations.

So instead we’ll turn to a namesake of Margaret’s — well, namesake once removed.

We don’t know the date or even the season in 1301 when the so-called False Margaret and her husband were executed for fraud and treason: he by beheading, and she by burning at the stake.

The pair had made an audacious grab for the Norwegian throne the previous year. The story was told in detail in a nineteenth-century Icelandic history.

The False Margaret (whose true name has been lost to history, as has that of her husband) claimed to be Princess Margaret, known as the Maid of Norway, who was supposed to have died a decade before. How she got the idea to do this is a mystery. It seems unlikely that she came up with the plan on her own, but if she didn’t, then who set her up?

The actual Maid of Norway was the daughter of Eric II of Norway and a mom also named Margaret, this Margaret the daughter of Alexander III of Scotland. Said couple’s marriage treaty specified that if Alexander died without sons, and his daughter had children by Eric, those children would succeed to the throne of Scotland.

This is precisely what happened: Alexander died in 1286 without a legitimate son to succeed him, leaving his kingdom to the three-year-old Norwegian princess.

Technically speaking, the Maid of Norway was Queen of Scots from 1286 until her death. But since she was never crowned and never set foot on Scottish soil, some lists of Scottish monarchs do not include her name. She remained in Norway for the next several years and a selected group of guardians tried to maintain control of the country for her.

On, for the laughter, harps he pressed,
The feast’s right royal quarter; —
But west the ship fared, ever west
With Eric’s little daughter

-From “King Haakon’s Banquet Hall”, by Henrik Ibsen (pdf link)

Eric set about arranging a marriage for his daughter, eventually settling on the future Edward II of England, who was then Prince of Wales. Margaret set off for Scotland in 1290, with the plan that the English wedding would be arranged once she arrived.

Alas, the Maid of Norway never saw Scotland.

In September or October of 1290, en route, she died suddenly somewhere in the vicinity of the Orkney Islands, which were then Norwegian territory. She was only seven years old.

Her death set off a crisis in Scotland as more than a dozen heirs competed for the vacant throne, and this eventually lead to the Wars of Scottish Independence.

But did little Margaret really die?

In 1300, a woman arrived in Bergen, Norway on a German ship, claiming to be the lost princess. She said she had not died but had in fact been “sold” by one of her female attendants and sent to Germany, and had married there. By this time, Eric II had died without male issue and his brother, Haakon V, had become King of Norway.

In spite of the fact that (a) the Maid of Norway’s body had been returned to Norway and was identified by her father and (b) the False Margaret appeared to be about 40 years old when the Maid would have been 17, the False Margaret’s claims drew considerable popular support.

Why? A theory was put forth by the 19th-century Scottish historian John Hill Burton:

The announcement of so portentous an event [meaning the Maid’s death], through indistinct rumors, naturally caused men to talk and doubt. There was none of the solemn detail that might be expected to attend on a royal death, even though less heavily laden with a perplexing future. We are not told of any who were present, of the disease or its progress, of the spot where she died, or the place where she was buried. The time of death is only inferred … The whole affair has left on Scandinavian history a shadow of doubt, in the possibility that the child might have been spirited away by some one of those so deeply interested in her disappearance, and consequently, that it may be an open question whether the royal line of the Alexanders really came to an end…

It should be emphasized that there is no evidence of any conspiracy surrounding the Maid’s death and no evidence of her survival past 1290. Her own father, who had no apparent reason to lie, viewed the body and identified it as his daughter.

But people will talk, and believe what they want, and so the False Margaret found support for her wild story.

Ironically, even if she had been the real Maid of Norway, the False Margaret was not a serious rival to her uncle Haakon; her sex would have prevented her from ruling. But, as the Norwegian historian Peter Andreas Munch noted,

Her pretensions … might, nevertheless, have been extremely distasteful to him, and probably not altogether free from danger in the future, if, as was not at all unlikely, they should be made use of by the party of nobles who were discontented with his absolute government. This party would willingly have thrust him from the throne … but before they could hope to do so they must have a pretender to the crown of the old royal stock to set up opposition to him. [ … ] And for this purpose there would have been none more suitable than Margaret, if she could be conjured from the dead again.

This woman had to be dealt with. There was no getting around it.

Since the False Margaret and her husband were not executed until 1301, a year after their arrival in Norway, it seems likely that there must have been some official investigation into her claims. If so, the records of this have been lost. What seditious nobles might have hoped to gain through her has likewise slipped into a speculative fog. But False Margaret was clearly a matter of highest statecraft at the time: the executions were delayed until King Haakon could personally come to Bergen to see them carried out.

Embarrassingly, the False Margaret’s cause did not die with her. Her supporters actually erected a church to our friend Saint Margaret near the place of her execution. (The church is no longer extant.)

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guest Writers,History,Norway,Other Voices,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Public Executions,Scotland,Treason,Uncertain Dates,Women

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2011: A day in the death penalty around the world

Add comment July 19th, 2012 Headsman

China

On the morning of July 19, 2011, two Chinese politicians were executed for corruption.

Xu Maiyong (right), former vice mayor of Hangzhou in Zhejiang and bearer of the Santa Claus-esque nickname “Plenty Xu”, was on the hook for $30 million of embezzlement as part of a wide-ranging campaign of public graft in service of a suitably luxuriant lifestyle filled with homes and mistresses.

Jiang Renjie, deputy mayor in charge of urban planning, construction, transportation, communications and housing in Suzhou, had made about half that much in bribes from developers around 2001-2004.


United States

On July 19, 2011, Arizona executed 52-year-old Thomas Paul West, a mere 24 years after he beat a man to death while robbing his Tucson trailer in June 1987.

West had the depressing background so common to condemned prisoners, a litany of childhood sexual abuse that drove him to drug abuse and a PTSD diagnosis: he would claim that he “freaked out” when the homeowner Donald Bortle surprised him and started yelling at him, and that he didn’t think he’d killed Bortle at all.

He lost a closely divided clemency vote shortly before his death on a 3-2 margin. He also lost judicial appeals over Arizona’s having illegally obtained the execution drug sodium thiopental, and then switched the injection protocol at the last minute to the instead use the hip new killing-drug pentobarbital. He even lost after he was already dead.

The Grand Canyon State, more famous perhaps for its outre immigration policies, is an emerging death penalty hot spot.

Per the Death Penalty Information Center’s database, Arizona didn’t conduct its first 21st-century execution until 2007, nor its second until 2010. But West was the fourth man (no women since 1930) put to death there in 2011, and the state could carry out up to seven in 2012.


Iran

The public triple-hanging in Azadi Square in the ethnically Kurdish west Iranian city of Kermanshah on this date was just a drop in the bucket relative to Iran’s hundreds-strong annual execution toll. But this one made the headlines.

Fazel Hawramy of Kurdishblogger.com provided the following video of the public hanging to Amnesty International, which helped focus worldwide attention on the event … although to what real consequence for “the continuing horror of the death penalty in Iran” (Amnesty’s words) is harder to say.

Equally hard to say from here is what relationship the hanged men’s rape conviction had to reality.

Warning: This is a snuff film.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arizona,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Lethal Injection,Mature Content,Murder,Politicians,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft,USA

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1936: Virgilio Leret, the first shot in the Spanish Civil War

Add comment July 18th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1936, Spanish aviator Virgilio Leret Ruiz was shot for resisting the fascists’ opening gambit in what would become the Spanish Civil War.


The first vignette of this recent film supporting justice for victims of the civil war is voiced by film director Pedro Almodovar, who says “My name is Virgilio Leret Ruiz … I’m a pilot, head of the air force in the eastern part of Morocco. I refuse to support the uprising, and at dawn on 18 July 1936, my comrades turned me into the first military officer assassinated for fulfilling his duty.”

Leret (Spanish link, as are all the ensuing links in this post), who has the incidental distinction of having patented an early jet engine design, was, circa 1936, stationed at the Atalayon Seaplane Base on the outskirts of Spain’s Moroccan exclave of Melilla.

This would put him in the front row for the very first action of the terrible civil war — the July 17 military uprising (Spanish link) that secured Spanish Morocco for the putschists within hours.

North Africa, correctly rated as easy pickings, was to be the first target of Franco’s rising, with the main event on the Iberian peninsula following the very next day. From their standpoint, it pretty much went off without a hitch.


This pro-Franco plaque in Melilla celebrates the city’s distinction as the place where his “glorious national movement” was launched. Image (c) Joshua Benton and used with permission.

Leret’s wife Carlota, spent 4+ years locked up and wrote this book about her fellow prisoners. She later moved to Venezuela, where Leret progeny still remain.

Despite the absence of any effective resistance elsewhere in Melilla, Captain Leret scrambled from a relaxing day swimming with his family and commanded his base to hold out for the Republican government.

While it was no real threat to the rebelling officers, the gesture required a slight detour by Franco’s forces, and even a couple of casualties before the Seaplane base surrendered that night to obviously overwhelming opposition.

The next day at dawn, “half-naked and with a broken arm,” Virgilio Leret Ruiz became — along with two ensigns under his command, Armando Corral Gonzalez and Luis Calvo Calavia — the first people executed in the Spanish Civil War.

Needless to say, a great many others would follow them.

A 2011 documentary, Virgilio Leret, the Blue Knight, retrieves the reputation of this “exceptional man”, and the experience of 20th century Spain through the fate of his family.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Morocco,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Wartime Executions

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1537: Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis

Add comment July 17th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1537, a Scottish noblewoman suffered the fate decreed for her treason — in the terse entry of the judicial record, combusta.

Knocking around Glamis Castle — where Shakespeare’s great villain Macbeth got his start, as Thane of Glamis* — Janet Douglas had the going enmity of Scottish king James V on the substantial grounds that Janet’s father had held the teen-king his virtual prisoner for a few years in the 1520s. Once James got free, he proscribed the lady’s brother, the Earl of Angus (whom Janet continued to shelter when occasioned), confiscated properties, forbade Douglases from approaching his person, and all that sort of thing.

Presumably according to this same anti-Douglas animus, an abortive attempt was made in 1531 to try our Lady Glamis for poisoning her late first husband, Lord Glamis. However, the charge foundered on the refusal of her peers to participate: “the lairds of Ardoch, Braco, Fingask, Abernethy, Piferran, Lawers, Carnock, Moncreiff, Anstruther, Lord Ruthven, Lord Oliphant, and many others, were fined for absenting themselves from the jury.”

Six years later she was more successfully returned to the dock, this time on a charge of plotting to poison the king himself. There seems to remain very little detail that would trace the precise unfolding of those years and offer later interlocutors a clear interpretation; while “innocent noble railroaded” is the most conventional read — Henry VIII’s agent reported that the conviction was secured “without any substanciall ground or proyf of mattir” — this book gives it a “maybe she did, maybe she didn’t” spin. That whole embittered proscription thing cuts both ways, as motives go.

At any rate, torture induced Janet Douglas’s own 16-year-old son John to testify that she had procured a potion intended to resolve that feud, and despite reported doubts and a spirited defense, the judges found her “committit art and part of the tressonabill Conspiratioune and ymaginatioune of the slauchter and destructioune of our soverane lordis” and therefore to “be had to Castell hill of Edinburghe, and thair brynt in ane fyre to the deid as ane Traytour.” (John was reprieved of this fate, but he still had to watch.)

King Jamie took over Glamis Castle and hung his spurs there until his own death in 1542 … whereupon his crown passed to Mary, Queen of Scots, and the castle reverted to that young John, the new Lord Glamis.

Glamis Castle still stands, picturesquely, and legend has it that the visitor there might encounter the burned woman’s ghost haunting the place as the Grey Lady.**

* Not actually true of the historical man Macbeth.

** Not to be confused with the New York Times. Actually, there are several ghosts who go by this colorless title.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Scotland,The Supernatural,Treason,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1936: Mary Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate

2 comments July 16th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1936, onetime lovers Everett C. Applegate (referred to in some accounts as “Edward” or “Earl”) and Mary Frances Creighton, who went by her middle name, were electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison for the murder of Ada Applegate, Everett’s wife.


Mary Frances Creighton (top) and Everett Applegate.

Newspapers of the time referred to Frances as the Long Island Borgia. The murder came about as a result of, depending on your point of view, a Jerry Springer-type sensation or horrific child sexual abuse or both: In 1934, Frances and her husband and their two children were living with the Applegates and their daughter in Nassau County, New York.

By January 1935, Everett Applegate was having an affair with Frances. He was also interested in the Creightons’ blooming teenage daughter, Ruth. By June of that year the thirty-something man was sleeping with her also, with the knowledge of — and in at least one case, in sight of — Ada, whose obesity kept her mostly confined to bed.

Ruth was delighted with her new boyfriend, who drove her anyplace she wanted to go, gave her money and and bought her clothes and other gifts. But when Frances found out about the relationship in July, she was furious and humiliated.

Not only was Everett in the arms of another, but he was making her, Frances, look like a bad mother. Ruth was going to school dressed like a harlot, even wearing lipstick. Suppose she became pregnant? This would bring terrible shame upon the family.

In mid-September, Ada Applegate became violently sick, with diarrhea and bilious vomit. She spent a few days in the hospital and was discharged, without a diagnosis but feeling much better.

Immediately after she got home, however, her symptoms returned, and she died two days later, on September 27. The cause of death was listed as “coronary occlusion” — in other words, a heart attack.

Frances was a bit of a hard case and no stranger to murder. She and her husband John were living with his parents, as well as her teenage brother, Raymond Avery, in New Jersey in 1920 when Anna and Walter Creighton suddenly sickened and died, one after the other.

In 1923, Raymond too became ill with the same symptoms and rapidly expired, and his sister and brother-in-law collected his $1,000 life insurance policy. Frances and John were charged with his murder after the autopsy, held in spite of their objections, found arsenic in young Raymond’s body.

After the autopsy, deeply suspicious investigators exhumed the elder Creightons’ bodies while their son and daughter-in-law were in jail. No arsenic could be found in Walter’s system, but Anna’s contained a lethal dose, and Frances (but not John this time) was charged with murder even before she came to trial for her brother’s death. She’d never gotten along with her in-laws or they with her, and just before Anna became ill, Frances had made ominous statements that the old woman would shortly “destroy herself.”

The Creightons’ four-day trial for Raymond’s murder resulted in acquittal for both defendants. John went home and Frances remained in custody for another two weeks until she faced her next trial, for the death of Anna Creighton. The prosecution was unable to prove she had personally purchased any poison, and the 24-year-old defendant, an attractive nursing mother who was keeping her infant son in her cell with her, presented a sympathetic picture. Once again, she heard a jury announce a murder acquittal.

But she didn’t take warning from her two near escapes.

Twelve years later, Ada Applegate became the third person close to Frances Creighton who died of arsenic poisoning. Goodness knows how many more she might have ventured.

The police knew about Frances’s relatives’ proclivities for mysterious deaths, and were deeply suspicious. An autopsy revealed three times the lethal dose of arsenic in Ada’s corpse, and it didn’t take long for Frances to crack under questioning.

She admitted to poisoning Ada, but also implicated Everett, saying he’d known about the crime all along and had helped her. She also claimed he used his knowledge of her past to blackmail her into having sex with him.

Frances killed Ada, Frances said, so Everett would have a chance to make an honest woman out of Ruth, and because Ada had been gossiping in the neighborhood about her husband’s affair with the girl.

Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate found themselves arrested. Only then did a bewildered John find out about the sexual improprieties that had been going on for months right under his nose. Remarkably, he stood by Frances and said he believed her to be innocent of murder.

He was the only one.

A look into Frances’s past revealed some very additional suspicious incidents apart from the deaths in her family. Relatives of a neighbor she quarreled with got extremely ill after having tea with Frances, and although they pulled through, later on, the neighbor’s house burned down.

The fire was arson and Frances had been the prime suspect, but there was insufficient evidence to arrest her.

As for Everett Applegate, the case against him was far less persuasive.

Frances made three statements: in the first, as told above, she implicated her erstwhile lover. In the second, she said she’d done the murder all on her own and Everett was not involved. The third time she went back to blaming him: he had mixed the poison, and she had given it to his wife.

To this shaky accusation add the ill feeling engendered by Everett’s caddish mores, and it was enough for an indictment. (Everett was also charged with criminally assaulting Ruth. At his arraignment he attempted to plead guilty to this, saying, “I want to marry this girl.” The judge refused to accept the plea.)

By the time of the trial, Frances had gone all-in on blaming Everett. She claimed the lothario had “made” her poison Ada. Her defense portrayed her as a weak woman who had been lead astray by an evil, domineering male. But Everett’s lawyer made sure the jury heard about the deaths of her brother and parents-in-law in New Jersey, and her conviction was a foregone conclusion.

The main evidence against Everett was Frances’s testimony, the fact that he was known to have purchased the rat poison that wound up in Ada’s eggnog, and his despoiling the teenage daughter of his paramour. Everett’s defense attorney agreed their client was a scumbag and a pervert, but denied that he was a murderer.

In his concluding arguments, the attorney asked the jury to acquit Everett of killing his wife and convict him instead of the rape of Ruth. It didn’t work: the jury convicted him on both counts.

While the two condemned awaited their fate, Ruth, who had been sent to a girls’ reform school, would later write a letter to the authorities. She said her mother was innocent and she had heard Everett say he wanted to do away with Ada so he could marry her. No one believed her story.

On the day of their executions, Frances was given the first slot in hopes that she might make a final statement exonerating Everett. Alas, she was in no condition to give any statement at all; suffering from hysterical paralysis, she had to be taken to the chamber on a wheelchair, and some reports state that she was completely unconscious when they strapped her into it. She was the first executee at Sing Sing in 45 years who was unable to walk on their own to their death.

Everett, still protesting his innocence, followed her ten minutes later.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Sex,USA,Women

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1927: Three persistent escapees

1 comment July 15th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1927, Illinois conducted a public triple hanging, actually among the last public hangings in the state’s history.*

Charlie Duschowski, Walter Stalesky, Charles Shader, Roberto Torrez, Gregario Rizo and Barnardo Roa had busted out of the old Collins Street Prison in Joliet, along with a seventh man named James Price. In the process, they killed Assistant Warden, and former policeman, Peter Klein.

This has dirty Chicago politics from the Prohibition era all over it.

The events angered much of the general public, but among Chicago Mexicans, the fugitives became heroes. Will County officials investigated allegations that Klein belonged to a parole-selling ring headed by Will Colvin, chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The newspapers also reported that Chicago police had arrested Klein for selling bootleg liquor while still warden and for allowing prisoners to leave the prison and commit robberies so they could raise money for paroles. (Source)

At any rate, six of the men — all but James Price — were recaptured and condemned to die.

However, friends and relatives of the “doomed” Mexican trio began smuggling in saw blades with their care packages, and by March 1927, Rizo and Roa were hard at work sawing through their bars while the songbird Torrez covered them by belting out La Paloma for days on end.

Roa made a clean getaway, but Rizo and Torrez were taken after a few days in a south Chicago shootout. Now the proposed gallows club was down to five.

Nothing daunted, the three white folk in the party attempted their own breakout by picking their cell lock — joined by Rizo, who would find that the third time was not the charm. Taking sheriff Alfred E. Markgraf hostage, they attempted to drive out of the jail yard: Rizo was shot dead in the resulting fusillade, but somehow Charles Shader managed to scramble away in the mayhem as his compatriots were being re-arrested.

So now, with Shader, Roa, and Price on the lam and Rizo on the ice, only three guys remained to hang.

Left to right: Duschowski, Stalesky, and Torrez.

Notwithstanding the abysmal retention percentage, the prospect of a public triple hanging was a tremendous draw — no less so for the elusive desperadoes’ talent for grabbing headlines afresh every few weeks. A raucous crowd pressed around a sizable detail of riflemen who had good reason to suspect one last bid for freedom. (In a failure of showmanship, that did not happen.) The widow of the original victim even petitioned to throw the trap to drop them. (Ditto.)

So nothing remained but to visit justice upon them.

But not only upon them.

According to the July 17, 1927 Chicago Tribune, the curiosity of the spectacle made it an irresistible lure to yet another fugitive. What was it about Illinois jails in the Roaring Twenties?

Lincoln, Ill., July 16. — (AP) Albert “Blackie” Logan, escaped prisoner from the Logan county jail, is under arrest again here today, awaiting trial for safecracking. Logan ventured from concealment to see the three murderers of Deputy Warden Peter Klein hanged at Joliet. He was recognized by the sheriff.

As for the three escapees:

  • Shader was recaptured and hanged on October 10, 1928. It was the last hanging in the state’s history.
  • Price made it to New York, where he eventually wound up in prison for robbery. Illinois got him back in 1937, gave him a long prison term, and eventually paroled the guy in the 1960s.
  • Roa made it to Mexico, dodged a couple of near-miss extradition attempts, and was never returned to the tender mercies of Illinois. His fate after 1948 (the last time he was arrested, and an extradition fell through) is unknown.

* They were also the first executed in July of 1927, which was important because July 1 was the date Illinois adopted a switch to the electric chair. The change was not retroactive to crimes before that date, however, so it was the gallows for these fellows and several others into the following year.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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1949: Jake Bird

1 comment July 14th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

Contrary to what all the slasher films would have you believe, an ax does not make a very good murder weapon. Axes are big. They are heavy. They are difficult to conceal. When used they create a big mess. And if you are caught with one, it’s hard to come up with a suitably innocuous explanation for it.

Nevertheless, this was Jake Bird’s weapon of choice on October 30, 1947, when he broke into Bertha Kludt’s home and killed her and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Beverly June.

Perhaps if he had used a different weapon, things would have turned out differently. As it was, the two women’s screams — and that’s another problem with the ax: unless you can wield it like Gimli, the victim is going to survive the first blow and start hollering — attracted two police officers, who apprehended Bird after a foot chase.

This excellent History Link article provides a thorough account of Bird’s life and crimes. 45 years old at the time of his arrest, he was a drifter and a ne’er-do-well with an extensive criminal record. He’d spent a third of his life in prison for various offenses. Bird openly confessed to the Kludt killings, saying the murders were the result of a botched burglary.

One of the police officers who testified at the trial admitted he beat the daylights out of Bird after his arrest. Naturally, the defense moved to throw out the murder confession on the grounds that it was obtained under force, but the judge ruled that the police brutality and Bird’s statements were “unrelated” and so the confession was admitted into evidence.

This was the attorney’s only attempt to defend his client; he called no witnesses and presented no evidence at the trial.

In all fairness, it must be said that Bird was spattered with gore when he was arrested, they found his fingerprints in blood at the crime scene and on the ax, and he’d left his shoes at the Kludt house. So the confession didn’t figure to be exactly decisive.

This would be a fairly unremarkable murder case, but shortly after his arrival on Death Row, Bird suddenly discovered he had an excellent singing voice. For the next several months he detailed 44 murders from all across the country which he claimed he’d committed during his wanderings. Most of his victims were women.

Bird’s claims, if true, would make him one of America’s most deadly serial killers, right up there with the much more famous Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer, Gary Leon Ridgway. One inevitably wonders if all of his statements were genuine. Henry Lee Lucas, another violent drifter much like Bird, admitted to hundreds of homicides and captivated police from all over the nation before it was discovered that many of his confessions were lies.

Police in several states did find Bird credible, though. Bird was calm and ready for his hanging, which went off without a hitch. He willed his estate, valued at $6.15, to his appeals attorney.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Serial Killers,Theft,Torture,USA,Washington

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1708: Anne Harris, twice a hempen widow

1 comment July 13th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1708, a twenty-year-old shoplifter Anne Harris was hanged at Tyburn for serial larceny.

This young woman (“bidding adieu to everything that looked like virtue,” in the words of her Newgate Calendar entry) had picked up the tricks of her trade at least in part from two paramours who had already preceded her to the gallows. Signature trick: freebasing ale in a spoon, our subject would burn it down to a sticky syrup, which she could apply to her hands for a useful spidey-grip.

At age 14, she ditched her impoverished St. Giles family to cohabit with a thief 10 years her senior by the scabrous handle of “Jemmy the Mouth”, who was hanged for burglary in 1702. Nothing daunted, Anne moved on to one “Norwich Will”, who also had a good decade on her; this one swung in 1705 for a lucrative highway robbery.

Perhaps from their examples of excess greed, Anne seems to have picked up another useful trick: thieving modestly. Hangings required stealing goods in excess of a certain value, and while the threshold was heartbreaking low, it did exist. (Juries loath to hang a certain defendant for a mere property crime would often intentionally construe the value of stolen objects to only a sub-capital level.)

Anne Harris had been caught before for purloinings of a sub-felonious nature, and frequently: she was “so often burned in the face that there was no more room left for the hangman to stigmatise her.” In just her few years in the trade, almost every inch of her face had been burnt and scarred.

Accordingly, although her fatal crime likewise appears to have been only a minor theft, “the Court thought fit to condemn her for privately stealing a piece of printed calico” on the grounds of incorrigibility.

Update: via Althea Preston and Two Nerdy History Girls, clarification on the apparent context for Anne’s former sentences of facial burning.

From 1699 until 1707/8, England used a facial-burning sentence for minor thefts when the offender could claim benefit of clergy. After 1691, this benefit was fully available to women, and from 1706 it was even available for both men and women without the classical literacy test.

Since the point of the benefit by this time — long past the sell-by date of its ecclesiastical foundation — was to go easy on first-time offenders, it’s a bit surprising that Anne Harris might have had it several times. More than likely that again underscores the trifling value of her previous thefts. After the change in law early in 1708, it would be the hand that got branded instead … but as a repeat recidivist, Anne apparently was past the help of this little loophole regardless of the body part mutilated.

Incidentally, the reason England so quickly gave up on its experiment in branding small-time criminals with a prominent, visible-to-everyone stigmata was that “it hath been found by experience, that the said punishment hath not had its desired effect, by deterring such offenders from the further committing such crimes and offences, but on the contrary, such offenders being rendered thereby unfit to be intrusted in any service or employment to get their livelihood in any honest and lawful way, become the most desperate.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Theft

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